A looming staffing problem in Western Australia's 26 Police and Community Youth Centres (PCYC) is exposing premier Colin Barnett and the Liberal government's disregard for youth services and the complete hypocrisy of the law and order rhetoric that crops up at every state election.
PCYCs are formally independent non-profit organisations, supported by the state through the provision of police officers as full-time centre managers.
The Fremantle PCYC based in Hilton has a staggering 38,000 visits a year. It hosts a vast array of activities from traditional sports to guitar lessons and its award-winning Noongar Healthy Lifestyle program. There is also a computer room and drop-in centre, used by up to 40 youths a day, mostly from the local Aboriginal Noongar community.
The centres are now under threat because of a decision by the police commissioner to withdraw staff. Replacements, if any, have not been revealed; but the signs aren't good.
At some centres, staff have been temporarily replaced with civilian police department employees, but then told they would have to find and fund their own centre managers.
PCYCs fund their activities through donations, grants and modest fees. They will simply be unable to pay for full-time managers without axing many of their programs. The head of WA PCYC predicted some centres may have to close.
Perhaps the association with the police and their promotion of respect for the law kept the PCYCs in favour with conservative politicians in the past. But now their managers may have to spend half their time scrabbling for grants and donations simply to pay their own wages, just like so many other non-profit organisations providing essential community services.
This drama comes in the context of the Barnett government’s drive to reduce spending by 3% across the public sector. Unsurprisingly, the most needy and vulnerable are carrying the biggest burden of the cuts. The Disability Services Commission said it would do its bit in December by slashing the positions of its 27 social trainers.
It also fits the Barnett government's pattern of tough talking, regressive “law and order” policies that will do absolutely nothing to make communities safer, such as the re-criminalisation of the possession of small amounts of cannabis, and its draconian stop-and-search powers legislation, which failed in parliament because even the National Party MPs thought it went too far.
Likewise anyone who thinks that cutting affordable after school activities is going to reduce crime has rocks in their head. No doubt the government was planning to dress up the PCYC cost-cutting exercise as proof it's making us all safer by getting police out from behind their desks and on the beat.
But programs for young people should not be treated as some kind of optional extra, dependent on charity, special grants or the whim of the police department. They should be properly funded by the state.
The talk about cost restraints is rubbish. WA is rolling in mining money, it's just not being shared around. Fortesque Metals, owned by Australia’s third richest person Andrew Forrest, paid no corporate tax for eight years. It's well beyond time that the wealth of the mining boom was used for the social good.
[Sam Wainwright is a councillor for Fremantle Council and a member of the Socialist Alliance. His website can be found at www.freoreport.net.]